Transformers: Age of Extinction 3D (2014)

2017 #90
Michael Bay | 165 mins | Blu-ray | 2.40:1 + 1.90:1 + 2.00:1 | USA & China / English | 12 / PG-13

Transformers: Age of Extinction

I thought I was done with Transformers movies. I watched Dark of the Moon back in 2014 and hated it — I gave it two stars and later couldn’t remember why I’d given it more than one. Fortunately that rounded out an initial trilogy, so when this fourth movie came out I didn’t feel I had to bother, especially when the reviews were even worse. When it made its debut on Sky Movies, rather than watch it I summarised other writers’ insightful/amusing commentary — though I acknowledged that “maybe one day I will cave and check out this renowned piece of cinematic excrement, because I am a completist and having seen three of the films I feel compelled to watch every new entry that turns up”.

Obviously, that day has come. The reason is 3D.

Regular readers will know I caved to imminently-obsolete technology back in April and bought a 3D-capable 4K TV (I wrote about it here). Long story short, the third and fourth Transformers movies were shot in 3D and are well-praised on the format. So after I rewatched the third in 3D and enjoyed it more than I remembered, the fourth called.

Here come the Transformers... again

On a purely technical level, Age of Extinction is a masterpiece. As well as 3D, significant chunks of the film were shot for IMAX, and the IMAX 3D stuff is incredible. Sometimes director Michael Bay uses it for just regular scenes, like Mark Wahlberg driving his truck or walking around an old theatre, and even those bits are a riot of depth and dimensionality. So when it opens out to show wide scenery, or for the action sequences… wow! And Bay chooses to use IMAX, like, all the time — as I said, for low-key regular stuff as well as the “epic” stuff you know it’s made for — so much so that it’s kinda weird they didn’t just shoot the whole movie in an expanded aspect ratio. (There are at least three aspect ratios used. I believe the fifth movie has five or more.) Some people hate shifting aspect ratios on Blu-ray, finding it odd when the screen suddenly fills up. Age of Extinction has the opposite effect, feeling odd when black bars appear to make it 2.40:1 for the odd shot here or there. Personally I love a shifting aspect ratio, but generally that’s because it’s the expansive IMAX stuff intruding now and then to impressive effect — when it does the opposite, it has a lessening effect.

And to round out my praise for the film’s technical merits, the sound design is positively thunderous. On a pure show-off level, this may well be the greatest Blu-ray I’ve ever seen.

As for the film itself…

Just normal people, standing around normally like normal people do

Age of Extinction is not really a movie for anyone interested in such trivial things as plot or character or internal logic. They certainly don’t concern Bay. He’s almost solely driven by the visual. It’s almost a different way of approaching the movie. If you can take it that way, I think it at least explains how some of its apparent missteps come about. For example: Wahlberg’s 17-year-old daughter is dating a 20-year-old fella — barely worthy of a raised eyebrow here in the UK, but a Shocking Thing in the US where the age of consent is (mostly) 18. But in Texas, where the film is set, they have this thing called the Romeo and Juliet law which, long story short, makes the relationship okay. Except the guy has this law printed on a card in his wallet. How skeevy is that?! I mean, why does he need it on him at all times in the form of a handy little card? What’s that for? But you see, here we are applying real-life logic. In BayWorld, having a little card with the law on it is a handy way to quickly dramatise the existence of said law and get it on screen. No, I agree, this doesn’t make a great deal of sense — as I said, if you think through the implications of why the character might possess this card, it makes the guy a massive creep — but the way Bay uses it in situ, I can kind of see what he was thinking. This kind of reasoning — of moviemaking driven more by visual thrust and expediency rather than plot coherence or character motivation — can be expanded to explain almost every plot hole, logic gap, or sudden time jump in the whole movie.

Elsewhere, It’s like someone set a challenge for how many explosions it’s possible to have in one movie. It’s just… mind-boggling. The film makes little sense as a story, or a series of events with cause and effect, or a paced action sequence with ebb and flow — it’s just a relentless assault of set pieces; things that would be a showcase stunt or effect in another movie just piled atop each other in a never-ending tumble of action. It’s, in its own strange way, impressive.

SPLOSIONS

It’s hard to describe the cumulative effect of these features, because the impact it has on the viewer is so rooted in the visual, the aural, the… not emotional, because there’s little feeling. The adrenal? As in adrenaline-generating. It makes no sense, and yet it makes its own sense. It’s almost avant-garde.

However, lest you think Bay is deliberately thinking everything out, just in a different way to the rest of us, there’s plenty of evidence that he isn’t. An obvious one is the film’s weird vein of anti-American-ism. Not overtly so, but it presents the CIA (and other US law enforcement) as corrupt and the government as incompetent because it can’t oversee them properly. This feels very odd from Bay, who’s usually so worshipful of the armed forces. Maybe he’s actually one of that weird breed of right-wingers who think it’s somehow most patriotic to hate the government and all of its institutions? Or maybe Bay is secretly left-wing — I mean, the entire ethos of Transformers is pro immigration and asylum. Or maybe he just doesn’t know what he is, or doesn’t see the inherent contradictions in what he’s putting on screen. Yeah, that version sounds about right.

It’s definitely way too long. In fact, it’s so long that when it finally finished I felt the same as if I’d just binge-watched an entire miniseries. Ironically, for a movie that doesn’t care about plot, there’s too much of it. Ironically, for a movie that uses visual shortcuts for expediency, it allows some scenes to run much longer than they need to. You could easily lose 30 to 45 minutes of this movie, either by ditching some of the plot or ditching some of the repetitive explosions; or, ideally, a bit of both.

It's a sword... that's also a gun!

Despite supposedly being a fresh start for the series, Age of Extinction spins out of the events of the last movie (it’s set five years later, with both Autobots and Decepticons persona non grata after the destructive Battle of Chicago), but doesn’t even mention Sam (Shia LaBeouf’s character) or any of the other films’ humans. Optimus Prime and Bumblebee don’t seem in the least bit bothered to have nothing to do with their former friends. Why? Who knows. Do we care? I guess not. Maybe it’s just that the Autobots, the film’s supposed heroes, are actually horrible, horrible people. Rather than good and kind and fighting for righteousness or something, their behaviour is frequently mean and cruel. A couple of them are desperate to give up on humanity (the only reason they don’t? “Optimus said we can’t”), while another kills an alien just because it looks ugly. That’s literally the only reason.

At least with the humans there are actually seeds of character arcs, and attempted developments and payoffs too — like Marky Mark and Stanley Tucci both being inventors and so sharing a commonality, or the rivalry between dad and boyfriend that eventually sorts itself out (and creates one of the film’s few genuinely good lines). But screenwriter Ehren Kruger still doesn’t really know how to do his job — or, if he does, Bay must’ve come along and torn it up to the point where it doesn’t matter — so while you’re left able to see the germs of an idea and the broad shape of how it should work, it still kinda doesn’t quite gel (unless you’re kind enough to fill in the blanks yourself). Tucci, incidentally, is great. Goodness knows what made him agree to do the movie, but he’s clearly having fun with it.

A robot knight riding a robot dinosaur, as you do

As a narrative movie, Transformers: Age of Extinction probably merits a two-out-of-five, at best. Approached purely as a demonstration of the visual splendour possible with IMAX 3D, it deserves full marks. As a sensory experience that combines both those things and everything else you get with a movie, it’s somewhere between the two.

3 out of 5

The fifth Transformers movie, The Last Knight, is released on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK on Monday. I’ll be getting it in 3D, of course, and reviewing it at a later date.

The Hum in the Drum Monthly Update for June 2017

There was so much hummable music in this month’s movies that I considered a music-related category for the Arbies then dropped it because I didn’t want to have to decide.

So I’ll leave it up to you what track you choose to listen to (I’m going with Mike Relm’s Baby Driver remix) while we reflect on the month that was…


#76 Space Jam (1996)
#77 The Muppet Movie (1979)
#78 Gran Torino (2008)
#79 Contact (1997)
#80 That’s Entertainment! (1974)
#81 Wonder Woman (2017)
#82 The Mummy (2017)
#83 Moonlight (2016)
#84 The LEGO Batman Movie 3D (2017)
#85 Moana 3D (2016)
#86 John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017)
#87 The Great Muppet Caper (1981)
#88 District 9 (2009)
#89 Baby Driver (2017)
#90 Transformers: Age of Extinction 3D (2014)
Contact

Baby Driver

.


  • I watched 15 new films this month, exceeding the rolling average of the last 12 months (previously 14.1, now 14.2) and equalling the average for 2017 to date (which was and is bang on 15).
  • At the halfway point of the year, I’ve reached #90, which suggests a final tally of 180. Of course (as I mentioned last month, actually), this time in 2015 I was also at #90 and eventually turned that into 200, while this time in 2016 I was way ahead at #115 but only turned that into 195. So… it’s basically meaningless, is what I’m saying.
  • At the risk of spoiling one of my year-end stats, The Mummy marked the most cinema trips I’ve made in a single year since 2008. And there’s half the year to go yet, with at least the same number of films again earmarked as must-sees.
  • This month’s Blindspot film: Neill Blomkamp’s Oscar-nominated allegorical sci-fi actioner, District 9, which came to Netflix UK this week, I believe for the first time, but I didn’t get round to reviewing it.
  • This month’s WDYMYHS film: Clint Eastwood’s retirement from acting (until it wasn’t) in Gran Torino, which I also haven’t reviewed yet.



The 25th Monthly Arbitrary Awards

Favourite Film of the Month
I haven’t got round to reviewing most of them yet so you wouldn’t know it, but there are a good number of favourite-able movies this month — at least five solid contenders for my year-end top ten, I’d say. But setting aside tales of alien instruction manuals, black boys looking blue, toy superheroes, and musical Polynesians (not to mention wonderful women and gun-toting boogeymen), for my favourite movie this month I have to pick Baby Driver.

Least Favourite Film of the Month
Conversely, this was easy. Several movies this month may have underwhelmed me, either in themselves or compared to the hype, but the only one I outright hated was Space Jam.

Best Serious Drama About First Contact with Aliens of the Month
It’s taken me 20 years to see Contact and I loved it. I’m not sure if I would’ve loved it as much 20 years ago, mind, so maybe now was the right time.

The Silicon Valley Producers’ Favourite Movie of the Month
I wonder if Transformers: Age of Extinction is popular in the Silicon Valley writers’ room right now, considering it features T.J. Miller (spoiler alert!) suffering a horrible demise.

The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
For the third time this award goes to the latest edition of The Past Month on TV, which covered the start of the new Twin Peaks, the “Monk trilogy” on Doctor Who, and more.



It was another good month for my Rewatchathon. I’m still behind where I should be (we’re halfway through the year, so that’d be at #26), but across the last two months I’ve averaged six rewatches a month — if I keep that up, all will be fine.

#16 Mamma Mia! (2008)
#17 John Wick (2014)
#18 Transformers (2007)
#19 Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen Big Screen Edition (2009)
#20 Transformers: Dark of the Moon 3D (2011)

I didn’t intend to watch Mamma Mia, but the other half put it on and, while I still only half watched it, I paid more attention than I’d expected to. It’s a very daft movie, but it’s so deliberately silly and cheesy that I can’t help but find it amusing. I re-read my nine-year-old review and it pretty much still stands.

Rewatching the Bayformers films was interesting. I wrote a little about Transformers, Revenge of the Fallen, and Dark of the Moon on Letterboxd if you’re interested, but in summary: I liked the first less than I remembered, enjoyed the second a surprising amount, and completely changed my opinion of the third. I technically watched a different cut of the second one (it’s all of 30 seconds longer), so I’ll probably include a little bit about that in a future review roundup.


Spider-Man, Spider-Man, does whatever another Marvel Studios character can.

Transformers: Age of Extinction is new to Sky Movies today but I haven’t seen it and I don’t intend to

2015 #—
Michael Bay | 165 mins | — | 2.35:1 | USA & China / English | 12 / PG-13

Transformers: Age of ExtinctionAs my Now TV Sky Movies subscription winds down, and I find myself with limited time left to watch the abundance of worthwhile films available there, I very nearly spent a little over two and a half of my precious hours watching the fourth Transformers movie (made available via Sky Movies on demand a week before its TV premiere, which is today).

And then I remembered that the last two Transformers films were rubbish, and that Age of Extinction had met with an even worse reception upon its theatrical debut last July, so why would I want to waste so much of my time on something I was sure to think was dross?

Maybe one day I will cave and check out this renowned piece of cinematic excrement, because I am a completist and having seen three of the films I feel compelled to watch every new entry that turns up, even if it takes me a while to get round to it. For now, though, I have better things to do. [Edit: I got round to it eventually. My review.]

Lest you came here hoping for some thoughts on Transformers 4 from someone who had actually endured it, here are some choice quotes from (and links to) other pieces that I have appreciated:

The loyal fans – and they are legion – will trot out clichés like, “Leave your brain at the door,” and defend Age Of Extinction’s right to be nothing but a succession of varoom! and kersmash! sequences. For those who aren’t still blindly faithful to something they liked when they were nine, despite the colossal scale, there’s little to see here.

— Owen Williams, Empire

Colossal scale

audiences love it. I saw this in a packed theatre. They CHEER when innocents were threatened/killed. I can loathe Bay for making it, but he’s…right? This crowd, they love hate. They love revenge. Selfishness. Cruelty. The sexism? They shrug it off. The nonsensical story and people? Ditto. But the cruelty is an active joy. They applaud. I’m not exaggerating. This (American) crowd applauded at the end of the film.

— Andrew Ellard, Tweetnotes

The cruelty is an active joy

Oh man that Mike Bay fella must be the greatest moviemaker alive he even manages to throw in Robot-Dinosaurs too! And they’re on OUR SIDE! Well, to be honest I think they are actually Chinese, but fairs fair, they see Optimus in trouble and they step up, yes sir. Optimus rides in like John Wayne, bless him, sorting out the bad robots in this huge battle that’s so realistic I have to admit I lost track of what was going on, but that’s what war is like, man, its hell and you never know where the next bullet is coming from (or in this case flying robot lizard).

Robot-Dinosaurs!

Where most movies have a beginning, middle and an end, Age of Extinction has a beginning, then AHHHHH! for another two hours or so. […] an adult-themed Transformers movie seemingly written by a thirteen-year old boy and directed by his walking erection

— Neil Miller, Film School Rejects

Mark Wahlberg carrying a sword that is also a gun

Bay keeps the movie in a state of perpetual climax. Everything is epic, even when it isn’t. […] Don’t ask questions, the movie insists. If you persist, the answer is always “because it looks cool.” Why is Mark Wahlberg carrying a sword that is also a gun? Because it looks cool. Why are that CIA team wearing heavy black outfits in what looks like a pretty scorching day in Texas? Because it looks cool. Why does Lockdown’s head transform into a gun rather than his arm or something? Because it looks cool. Why is Optimus Prime riding a dinosaur? Because it looks cool.

— Darren Mooney, the m0vie blog

Why is Optimus Prime riding a dinosaur?

Bay is a film-making anomaly. Even the worst of his Hollywood peers are merely hacks. Bay is no hack. A hack is someone who understands their craft but fails to apply any artistry to it. Bay doesn’t even understand his craft.

— Eric Hillis, The Movie Waffler

There are other humans in this film

There’s nothing wrong with filmmakers either lionizing or lampooning U.S. institutions. That’s what freedom of speech is all about. In Age of Extinction, though, satire ends at the water’s edge. As soon as the action shifts to Hong Kong, the outbreak of alien-engendered chaos is met by a sea captain ordering a call to “the central government” for help, and later China’s defense minister does a walk-and-talk, sternly and seriously vowing to defend Hong Kong. America’s government is portrayed either ridiculous or diabolical, but China’s is assured and effective.

Not coincidentally, Age of Extinction is considered an “officially assisted production” […] No such deal gets struck in China without the consent and approval of the Beijing government and the Chinese Communist Party, and in this case, Paramount is in business with the Beijing regime directly

— David S. Cohen, Variety
(Though, much of Cohen’s piece is a little too “it should be pro-American! It’s unpatriotic!”)

Paramount is in business with the Beijing regime directly

I can show you invention in all 3 past movies. Rich ideas, however dumbly incorporated. Not here. Everything is an echo or repeat, or else so offensive or boring as to negate any quality. But mostly it just SITS there. […] I want to be clear. Don’t see it. Ever.

— Andrew Ellard, Tweetnotes

Transformers: Age of Extinction debuts on Sky Movies Premiere today at 1:20pm and 8pm.